Should I Take a Break from Working Out?

Fitness devotees know that the key to long-term health and fitness is to exercise at least five times a week, if not daily. A fitness regimen is the best way to stay healthy, prevent disease, reduce stress, and live longer. However, there are days when you just aren’t feeling it, or maybe an illness has left you bedridden for a week. Work schedules and family life can also be extremely demanding, leaving you drained of the energy needed to work out. And you’re probably wondering if you do take breaks, will you lose your fitness gains? How long is too long to take a break from exercise, and can I regain my previous fitness level?


Taking a break

Whether you are taking a break because you feel you need a rest or you are ill, you’re probably worried about losing your strength and endurance. According to the American Council on Exercise, taking a break from working out (if you already work out 4-6 times a week) is good for the mind and body to rest and recover. Taking a full week off for someone who is already fit is positive and beneficial. You won’t lose any strength or endurance, and you won’t gain any weight. Recovery time allows your muscle tissues to regenerate and deliver nutrients to your body.


Yet, for most people, the battle is more mental than physical when they stop working out, especially beginners. According to Dr. Steve Bell from the University of Minnesota, newbies to exercise are most at risk of quitting their workout routine after a break. For beginners, getting out of the routine of exercise when just beginning may cause some people to quit exercising altogether.


The takeaway here is that regular exercisers are encouraged to take short breaks, as they will not lose any gains, while novices should not take a long break until their routine is established, as it may affect motivation.


Recovery and rest

Taking a break from your workout routine doesn’t mean turning into a couch potato. You still need movement to stay healthy and keep blood circulating to your muscles. The American Council on Exercise defines recovery as removing strenuous exercise for a day or week–essentially a non-training day. If you feel you need a break but don’t want to stop your momentum, taking a stroll or practicing restorative yoga is a great way to let your muscles recover while also allowing progress.


How long should recovery time be?

Recovery time is up to you and what your body needs. Listen to the signals your body is telling you. Are you sore? Feeling exhausted or overwhelmed? Take some time off if your body needs it. But the key here is, don’t take too long of a break.


What happens when I stop working out?

Did you take the weekend off from your routine to rest this weekend? Don’t worry, you haven’t lost any gains–yet. For most people, it takes up to two months to lose the gains you’ve made overall. Aerobic and cardio fitness begins to decline faster, losing about 5-10% of aerobic fitness in about three weeks. Muscle endurance and strength last longer than aerobic fitness, however. For a regular person, this means you may begin to lose strength gains around two and a half to three weeks. Muscle memory helps retain strength up for a few weeks to even a few months, so you will lose endurance first before you notice a loss in strength gains.


Will I gain weight if I take a break?

The most dreaded aspect for most about taking a break from working out is gaining weight. Studies conducted at the University of Crete in Greece have shown that after a six-week hiatus from exercise, most people will begin to gain weight and body fat, especially if they eat unhealthy, high- calorie foods. If you do decide to take an extended break, be sure to eat healthy, nutritious meals and keep up with calorie intake.


Workout routine alternatives

If you’re feeling burnt out, fatigued, or you are injured, you still may not want to take a complete break from your workouts. Even if you are recovering, it is healthy and beneficial to still do low-impact, gentle exercises to keep your mind and body in shape. So if you don’t feel like exercising strenuously, you could take a long walk, do gentle yoga, Pilates, tai chi, or even take a swim. Recovery days you incorporate gentle, low-impact exercises to help your muscles recover without causing further damage.


I took a long break from my workouts. How do I get back in shape?

If you have taken a long break from exercise, first check in with your doctor to get the all-clear to return to exercise, especially if you were on hiatus because of an illness. Take it slowly, and gently return to your routine. For instance, if you were jogging regularly, you might want to start back walking first, and if you lift weights, start at a lower weight and fewer reps. Allowing your body to gradually get accustomed to exercising again will help prevent injury, soreness, or fatigue. The idea is to start slowly so you can retrain your muscles and build your endurance.


The takeaway

Taking a break from working out has both pros and cons. Too long of a break and you risk gaining weight, losing muscle strength, endurance, and cardio fitness. Another risk of taking a break is losing your momentum and you might stop exercising altogether.


A short break, however, can be beneficial if your body needs it. A few days, or even up to a week off from your workouts can replenish your body, mind, and motivation. Like everything in life, find a good balance of both working out and rest to stay healthy.

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